For the week ending 12 March 2011 / 5 Adar II 5771

Buying Mitzvot

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Ira

Dear Rabbi,

I saw a website that sells mitzvot like feeding the poor, visiting the sick, providing the needs of a bride and groom, mezuzah, bar mitzvah, kollel study, etc. Is this kosher? Approved? A loophole? Is this what G-d wants us to do? The idea that a wealthy person could just shell out some cash to fulfill his commitment to perform mitzvot seems to me a bit less than what G-d intended.

Dear Ira,

As an idea in general, if a certain charitable organization were to use this venue to fund the various good deeds they do, it would be fine. We’re required to give charity not only in money but also in deed, and this could serve as a partnership whereby the organization serves as the agent of the one who “buys” the good deed and bestows it upon the recipient. Most individuals do not have direct, personal access to such a variety of causes, so the organization is helping one to fulfill the mitzvah of charity in a well-rounded, practical way.

I would just add two qualifications: 1. The website/organization should have reliable approbations. 2. The word “buy” should be placed in quotation marks and it should be explained what that really means – namely that the “buyer” of the mitzvah is contributing to cover the costs involved in these charitable deeds.

Regarding your concern that a person should not be able to just buy mitzvot, you’re raising a good point. But I think what’s happening here is that the organization is directing money toward various charities of one’s choice, acting as the giver’s agent to fulfill the specific mitzvah of charity.

This is fine. A person can give his charity money personally, directly to the recipient, or via an agent (which has an advantage in that it’s anonymous, sparing the recipient embarrassment).

However, this is different than paying money for someone else to do your mitzvot, which I think is the case you’re taking issue with. One certainly cannot pay for a mitzvah and get the credit for it if he didn’t fulfill it himself. For example, one must keep Shabbat, don tefillin, eat kosher, etc. It is not possible to pay someone to do these mitzvot for you. They must be fulfilled by the person himself.

What could be done, however, (and this would seem to be the intention of the site regarding certain of the causes you mention), is to contribute money to help others fulfill mitzvot, in which case you would have the mitzvah of charity in the specific form of helping others do mitzvot. What’s more, in such cases, in addition to getting the mitzvah of tzedaka, one would also have a portion in the merit of the mitzvah itself, which is being made possible through his auspices.

As I wrote, this cannot take the place of the person’s own requirement to fulfill the mitzvot that are incumbent upon him, but even if he doesn’t keep the mitzvot himself, if he supports others that do, he receives at least a portion in the mitzvot that are performed through his support.

So, for example, he might not have a mezuza. But if he contributes to such an organization for the purpose of providing mezuzot for the needy who want them, he does get the mitzvah of charity, and has a certain indirect reward for the mitzvah that is being performed through him. The same applies for supporting Torah study or Shabbat observance, etc.

So the bottom line is, one may not pay money for others to do mitzvot in his stead. He is required to perform them himself. One may perform his mitzvah of charity by having others dispense the money for him. It is his money, and he’s the one performing the mitzvah, albeit through an agent. However, even if one does not perform mitzvot himself, he may fulfill the mitzvah of tzedaka by giving to needy people, and if this takes the form of helping others fulfill specific mitzvot, he gets a portion of the reward for the mitzvah as well, but that’s not in lieu of his own obligation to fulfill the mitzvot that are incumbent upon him.

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